Music to Heal Humanity

A friend (Josephine Gross from Networking Times) sent me this amazing speech that’s been kicking around the Internet. I wanted to post it here, so I wrote to the author, Dr. Karl Paulnack, Director of the Music Division at Boston Conservatory (where, as it happens, my grandmother went to school). I told Dr. Paulnack that my dad was a conductor and musicologist; that while growing, up music was my whole life; and that even though right now my career is as a writer of words, music continues to mean a great deal to me. Here is what he wrote back. John, your late dad is legendary! I’ve known his name forever. It’s a real honor to hear from you. And thank you for your kind words regarding the welcome speech of mine you’ve seen circulating. Frankly, I’m amazed at the number of people this has reached (I gave it as a talk to the parents of incoming freshmen in 2004) but I’m glad that so many have found it useful. Karl graciously gave me a link to another talk of his, a “sermon” he recently gave at Arlington Street Church entitled “How Music Works.” This one is an audio (about 15 minutes long), so you can actually hear Karl delivering it. Below is the full text of Karl’s address, given to parents of the incoming freshman class at Boston Conservatory on September 1, 2004. It’s long—and worth every reading minute. #  #  # One of my parents’ deepest fears, I suspect, was that society would not properly value me as a musician, that I wouldn’t be appreciated. I had...

Being Heard

My office is downstairs in our house; directly above me is the living room, at the edge of which is the location of the food and water dishes of our inimitable seven-pound poodle, Ben. One night while focused on a manuscript at my desk, I heard the pat-pat-pat-pat-pat of Ben’s little feet upstairs as he trotted in from our bedroom (where he had been faithfully guarding Ana while she watched TV) through the kitchen and toward the location of the dishes. From the sound of it, he was popping in for a drink of water. Cocking my ear, I heard that right-to-left pat-pat-pat-pat-pat-pat-pat, followed by a brief pause — too brief for drinking and with no telltale clink-clink-clink-clink-clink of his dogtags against the dish signifying his lapping at the dish — and then an immediate about-face left-to-right pat-pat-pat-pat-pat-pat-pat-pat receding again toward the hallway, where the stairs are located. Then about 20 seconds of silence. And then my door slowly swung open. His nose and then face poked through. He looked at me. I looked back, and I said: “What’s up, Ben? No water? Your dish empty?” I will never forget the look on his face. His is an awfully expressive face, but I don’t think I’d ever seen him register such an unmistakable expression before, and perhaps not since, either. He did a visible double-take and gaped at me with a look of absolute exuberance, a look of stunned revelation, and then he notched his head forward an inch to peer at me with intensity, a gaze that unambiguously said: Yes! Yes! That’s exactly what I meant! How the...

Mission: Change Lives

People have been asking me, “What kind of impact is the state of the economy having on the publishing world? And what kind of impact does it have on writers?” It’s a good news / bad news situation. When the economic ax started falling on Wall Street last fall, the book publishing world felt the pain early on. (Just as the American film industry is anchored in southern California, the publishing industry basically lives in New York City.) Still, in the midst of massive publishing layoffs and much hand-wringing about how impossible it was to sell new book deals, we sold a two-book deal just before Christmas. And in just the past few weeks, we sold two more major book projects. Even in the worst of environments, there’s always a market for new books. Wait — let’s make that statement more general: Even in the worst of environments, there’s always a market for anything that provides genuine value. In that sense, it’s always possible to make yourself more or less recession-proof. (Perhaps even depression-proof.) That’s the good news. Here’s the other side. The day we were supposed to close on one of those two new book deals, 60 people were laid off at the publishing company we were in talks with — including the person whose job it was to okay our deal. (Incredibly, that deal still went through, but not without all of us first checking twice to make sure all our limbs were still intact.) And this: I recently turned in the manuscript for another book, right on deadline, only to discover that the editor who was...

Teaching a Generation of Go-Givers

We recently learned that Don Gandy, a public high school principal in Valparaiso, Indiana, and his friend Randy Stelter, an athletic coach and English teacher, have decided to do a team-taught reading of The Go-Giver to their high school senior class and give out copies to every one of the school’s 145 seniors. “We believe that this book will equip our seniors to deeply understand the principles of giving,” says Don, “and we want them to realize the importance of community. Every year the next senior class will read this book. It is our gift to them as they leave our school.” Now that is the kind of feedback every author dreams about. P.S. We’ve blogged about this in more detail here and...